The Adventures of a Yacht Broker; Circa 1990
Navigation Skill or The Luck of Fools?
a short story by Don Robertson
One of the most important boat shows in the Toronto area used to be the in-water show at Ontario Place. It was a new boat show that attracted large crowds of boaters and we always had a booth there with pictures of our used boat listings. Used boats were not allowed in the show, but we sometimes brought two or three boats and moored them nearby on public docks within walking distance from the show. Of course after the show we had to move the boats back to Port Credit ASAP.
One of our brokers, Bob Valley, decided to take one of the boats back immediately after the show. I think he was just trying to get out of having to help lug our booth and equipment back to the office, but there was plenty of daylight left and the weather had been great all day, so it seemed like a good idea. He volunteered one of our newer and inexperienced guys to go with him to handle lines and deploy fenders... it was a 38 foot motoryacht if I remember correctly.
No sooner had they made it out a mile or two into the lake when a really big and thick fog bank rolled in and they could hardly see their hands in front of their faces. Now this was a used boat for sale that had had a lot of its equipment removed. There was no radar, charts, fog horn... not even a radio! This was before the time everyone had a cell phone in their pocket, so there they were blind as bats with no way to communicate. Also since it was a strange boat to Bob, he had no idea how accurate the compass was. None of this makes for a good feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Fortunately Bob was quite familiar with the area as his own yacht club was located between Toronto and Port Credit, Nevertheless he did not know the exact heading he needed, but was headed in the right direction when the fog hit, so he glared at the compass, did some fast thinking and set a course a little south of what he thought was correct to be sure of avoiding running aground and looked at his watch. He slowed the boat to idle, which on a twin engine motoryacht is about 5 knots, and calculated in his head the time it should take to be off Port Credit. The words "wild ass guess" now come to mind.
He sent the now very nervous new guy up on the bow to peer ahead into the fog. At five knots you need all the notice you can get if you are about run into something. After the allotted time had passed he made a 90 degree turn to the right, took one engine out of gear, which slowed them to about three knots and told the poor bugger on the bow to hold onto the bow rail, lean forward and squint! The idea was to creep to shore and try to sight something familiar so they would know which way to go. Needless to say this was a little nerve wracking, especially when there wasn't even a depth sounder on board!
They crept along for what seemed like forever, straining to see or hear anything that might help them get a clue to where they were. Suddenly the deck man shrieked "A SHIP - THERE IS A SHIP DEAD AHEAD! Bob threw both engines into reverse, abruptly stopping the boat and nearly putting our now thoroughly freaked out deckhand over the bow and into the lake. Now Bob knew they must be very close to shore by this time, and quickly reasoned that the chances of there being a laker there with them was just about nil. He asked the deckhand "is that ship the Ridgetown by any chance?" A feeble voice answered, "Yes, how in the hell did you know that?" Bob put both engines in forward, motored around the sunken break wall and went into the marina (see photo left).
Now how do you call it? Was this a display of exceptional seamanship, or was the patron saint of fools and idiots out for a boat ride that day?
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